Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 30, 2009

Around Town

THE WAITING GAME ... Palo Alto's utilities customers may have noticed that it's taking a little more patience these days to resolve those persistent billing problems. If so, there's a reason. In May, the Utilities Department tested its new $8.8 million online system, which allows customers to access their billing information and keep track of their electricity use. However, it included such pesky glitches as confusing computer-screen displays and bills that don't add up. Since then, customers have flooded the Utilities Department with calls, prompting waiting times of as long as 30 minutes, Utilities Director Valerie Fong told the City Council Monday night. The department has retained additional workers to deal with the flood of calls. Staff also asked the council to approve an additional $223,725 to resolve a list of "post-implementation issues" with the new system. The council begrudgingly granted the request, but only after complaining the issues should have been resolved in the original contract with system provider Axon Solutions, Inc. "When I design a building and it doesn't perform the way I told my clients it will perform, I don't get extra money to make it perform," said Councilman John Barton, an architect. Councilman Larry Klein suggested that sometimes a customer isn't properly equipped to know what services should be included in the contract and suggested getting a consultant to help. But Vice Chair Jack Morton, an accountant, urged his colleagues to approve the staff request and took solace in the fact that other professions share his pain. "Every time IRS changes laws, we have to redesign our software," Morton said.

RUNNING METERS ... Evening commuters from Palo Alto may soon notice a slight change in their highway experience: new metering lights on southbound ramps leading to U.S. Highway 101. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the lead agency on the project, plans to turn on the meters on southbound ramps between Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto and De La Cruz Boulevard in San Jose on Nov. 9. Affected meters will include the Oregon Expressway and Embarcadero Road ramps in Palo Alto. The purpose, according to a recent staff report, is to improve traffic flow on Highway 101 during busy commute hours. The meters will be in effect from 3 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. The VTA estimates that the new meters could speed up the southbound commute and trim as much as 7 minutes of the Palo Alto-to-San Jose drive between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m.

PUNDITS FOR A DAY ... Palo Altans yearning for live Election Day coverage will have a chance to spend their Tuesday night with three notable figures of local politics. Mayor Peter Drekmeier and former Palo Alto mayors Liz Kniss and Gary Fazzino will participate in the city's "Election Night Special," which is co-sponsored by the city and the Midpeninsula Community Media Center. The program will be broadcast on Cable Channel 27 from 9:30 to 11 p.m. on Nov. 3. Kniss, who currently serves as the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors; Fazzino, who may hold the local record for most times described as a "Palo Alto history buff," and Drekmeier will interview City Council candidates, discuss local trends and talk about the proposed Business License Tax, which will also be on Tuesday's ballot. The special will also be streamed live on the Media Center's website, www.communitymediacenter.net.

TRAVELING JUSTICE ... Conservatives? At Stanford? Barack Obama may have been the hands-down favorite on the Stanford University campus voting last November, but conservative voices also are strong at the school. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was at Stanford last Friday to dedicate the William H. Rehnquist Courtyard, a centerpiece of what will become Stanford Law School's new campus. Roberts, a 1952 graduate of Stanford Law School who clerked for Rehnquist, praised the late chief justice for strengthening federalism and the separation of powers. The Rehnquist Courtyard is in the recently opened Munger Graduate Residence Complex, named for Berkshire Hathaway vice-chair Charles T. Munger and his wife, Nancy Munger. The couple gave $43.5 million toward the project.

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